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Quonset huts: A practical building solution for the U.S. Navy during World War II

David Goran

In 1941, the U.S. Navy needed a versatile, multi-use building that was easy to ship and could be assembled without any special skills or tools.

Quonset huts filled the needs perfectly. Put simply, a Quonset hut (also known as Arch Buildings due to its shape) is a prefabricated metal structure made of corrugated steel that has a semicircular cross-section.

This involves self-supporting lengths of steel, usually connected in a semi-circular shape. These buildings provide advantages no other pre-engineered building can provide – low cost and high-security structures.

at the U.S. base on Attu in the Aleutian Islands. circa 1943-1944. Photo Credit

U.S. base,Aleutian Islands. circa 1943-1944. 

Quonset huts in front of Laguna Peak, Point Mugu, in 1946. Photo Credit

Quonset huts in front of Laguna Peak, Point Mugu, in 1946. 

The huts got their name from the location of the first manufacturing facility, Quonset Point near North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

The design was based on the Nissen hut introduced by the British during the First World War. During World War II, it is considered that many Quonset huts were built and utilized in the combat field by the US military.

Quonset huts at a U.S. base in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Photo Credit

Quonset huts at a U.S. base in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.

Quonset hut on rainy Attu. Photo Credit

Quonset hut on rainy Attu. Photo Credit

 

Generally the shape of the Quonset hut is half cylindrical. Photo Credit

Generally, the shape of the Quonset hut is half cylindrical. Photo Credit

While world war had started, ground battalion and navy were looking for some semi-permanent shelters where the soldiers could stay and took rest.

The George A. Fuller construction company was chosen to construct these huts. The first was developed within sixty days. The design was a 5 m × 11 m (16 ft. × 36 ft.) structure made by steel members with a 2.4 m (8 ft.) radius.

The building could be assembled on concrete, pilings or on the ground directly.

Building Quonset huts in a gale 1942. Photo Credit

Building Quonset huts in a gale 1942. 

 

A Quonset hut being put in place at the 598th Engineer Base Depot in Japan, post-World War II. Photo Credit

A Quonset hut being put in place at the 598th Engineer Base Depot in Japan, post-World War II. 

These huts provided various advantages for the US military. They could be quickly put together (in only a few hours) and taken apart in the field without needing anything more than hand tools. They were shipped as metal building kits, which provided dependable protection against the elements for people and machinery.

In fact, the rounded shape of the arch is one of the strongest architectural structures able to withstand blizzards, hurricanes, etc.

One of the wards at a US Army Station Hospital in Iceland. Photo Credit

One of the wards at a US Army Station Hospital in Iceland. Photo Credit

During World War II, roughly 150,000 to 170,000 huts were produced. Apart from semi-permanent housing, Quonset huts were used as a military camp, office, store room, health center etc.

In the modern age, Quonset huts are redesigned and remodeled so that it can fulfill the requirements of general people. A lot of universities also bought them to be used as student housing.

Quonset Huts used for housing at NAS Boca Chica C 1950. Photo Credit

Quonset Huts used for housing at NAS Boca Chica C 1950. Photo Credit

 

Many are still standing today. Photo Credit

Many are still standing today. Photo Credit

 

A Quunset hut in Fairbanks industrial section. Photo Credit

A Quonset hut in Fairbanks industrial section. Photo Credit

 

Quonset huts at DC Village. Photo Credit

Quonset huts at DC Village. Photo Credit

 

Quonset Hut on the Copper Trail. Photo Credit

Quonset Hut on the Copper Trail. Photo Credit

 

Quonset Hut, Devers, Texas. Photo Credit

Quonset Hut, Devers, Texas. Photo Credit

If you love war history then here’s another interesting article from us: Kilroy was here – mysterious WWII origins of the first viral graffiti meme  

Besides those that remain in use as outbuildings, they are often seen at military museums and other places featuring World War II memorabilia.